Once again I have suffered the attentions of a smaller nuzgul masquerading as a plot bunny. The creatures are proliferating at a tremendous rate, I find. This one appears to have been spawned by the bunny to blame for the story Vocabulary Lessons, one of the tales usually found in my Moments in Time collection. At any rate, it appeared sufficiently harmless to get by those governing the writing of Stirring Rings and The Tenant from Staddle, both of which appear to have been given to dozing lately, and even the more predatory one from the True Crime shelf of the bookcase in the dining room, one that has been feeding on news reports from the states of Arkansas and Tennessee. That one did manage to intrude long enough to see turtles and other fauna added to its tale, and another paragraph to the encounter between a deputation from the King’s court and the denizens of a keep of a minor lord in Anórien, but even it has been sitting back a bit more quietly lately as I’ve dealt with this one.
Anyway, for those of you who wondered what became of the boorish Ivormil of Bidwell and his less than exemplary father, now you know!
The crowning of Aragorn as King must have been a tremendous shock to many folk, for he might be almost pure Dúnedain in blood, but was certainly not of Gondor itself. Raised by and among Elves, spending much of his time patrolling border lands, acquainted and cooperating with folk of all races, accustomed to being on his own or working primarily with relatively small parties for the most part, he must have found the regimentation of Gondor’s forces and the use of the Council to advise and, to an extent, consent to actions and reactions exceedingly restrictive. His years in Rohan and Gondor as Thorongil had been decades earlier, with systems set into place among his own folk to allow the forces of the northern Dúnedain to work almost autonomously, reacting wherever threats were noted, keeping guard on the few settled lands such as the Breelands, the Shire, and Tharbad as well as their own, apparently well hidden, enclaves. That the northern Dúnedain folk would have probably lost much of their class structure--there’s little room for a servant class in a society where survival is based on having as many trained warriors as possible--is pretty much a given. Nor do we see that the class structure of the Shire is particularly rigid. Once he took over the overseeing of the reconstruction of the Shire and became Master of Bag End, few appear to have questioned that Sam had risen above his origins as a “mere” gardener, after all.
So, how would such a one as Aragorn have acted once he became the primary authority within the Citadel? Not raised to see servants as being invisible and little better than paid slaves, he would most likely not only respect the fact they were willing to do the grunt work so that others could focus on governing, protecting, and dealing with difficulties, but would also most likely insist that all visiting the Citadel treat them similarly.
The Citadel is not a private residence--it is the focus of government and a very public building. It would be intended to provide the primary residence for the King and his Steward and their families when resident in the capital; it would house the Council chambers; it would house offices not only for the King, Steward, major domo (whom I refer to as the Seneschal), housekeeper, major commanders of the armed forces or their liaisons, master of the exchequer or privy purse, master of protocol, a corp of clerks and secretaries and copyists, master purchaser, and so on; it would need to have accommodations for many of the younger, single servants as well as for those noble guests to the city who didn’t keep residences in the capital and for foreign dignitaries; and much more. There would be waiting rooms, offices, audience chambers, kitchens, dining halls of various levels of formality, private and public spaces of various sorts, laundries, seamstresses, store rooms for many kinds of goods, dayrooms for various classifications of residents, et cetera. There would probably even be servants whose primary purpose was to see to it those who dealt more obviously with the residents and visitors within the Citadel were properly cared for.
Anyone who’s dealt with public buildings quickly becomes aware of the fact that the staff that sees to the infrastructure of the place becomes increasingly numerous the more functions the building is supposed to deal with. In Britain during the Victorian period, a typical upper-class family of five might easily expect to support more than twice that many servants--butler, footman, parlor maid, one to three chambermaids, valet, housekeeper, cook, scullery maid, coachman, stable hand, lady’s maid. The larger the estate, the more servants one tended to see, as now one begins to need game keepers, grounds keepers, gardeners, kennels and those to keep them, farm managers and workers, those to see to the physical integrity of the buildings, tools and machinery, farriers. Add in medieval need for weapons masters and smiths and others to deal with arms and armor, and again the number of people needed about the place begins to explode.
So it is I postulate the Citadel of Minas Tirith undoubtedly housed a veritable army of servants, many of whom probably rarely saw one another save perhaps at mealtimes, which would undoubtedly have been staggered.
Usually it fell to the wife to primarily oversee the needs of the serving class, who usually fell under the direct joint rule of major domo or butler, head housekeeper, and cook. When Aragorn first came to the Citadel as King, however, he didn’t have a Queen, and I’m certain that just making the adjustments from largely loner-chieftain from the remnants of Arnor to very public King of Gondor and Arnor combined would have required sufficient attention he would seek to delegate the management of the household to someone he knew he could trust; so I have him do so to Lord Hardorn, the younger brother to Halbarad and Halladan whom I have as the one who, when it was allowed, tended to serve as the closest Aragorn had to a bodyguard and personal aide. Poor Hardorn--in my version of events he gets saddled with rather a lot. It’s perhaps no wonder he waited so long to marry!
In a large land such as Gondor, that at times recruitment for servants for the Citadel from throughout the realm might happen is likely, for it is probable that different regions would develop their own language usage and traditions. Having someone from Langstrand there who might be assigned to visiting nobles from the area would reassure those with whom the King and Steward must deal and make negotiations easier. And that at least some women who chose to accept employment within the Citadel did so in hopes of making an advantageous marriage is also probable, marriage being the major way in which women even today might change status, even here in the United States where I live.
And we face the fact that it is probable that not all minor lords within Gondor did their utmost to see to the needs of the realm during the major period of aggression on the part of Mordor. That some remained safely at home and sent only token forces to the nation’s needs is likely--and certainly Canelmir is one of these. His lands are tucked safely far away from Mordor itself and the coastal marauding to be expected from Harad and Umbar; if others are willing to suffer the trouble and expense of protecting the realm, let them. He’s in it only for himself. He finds that one parcel of land within his demesne he’d thought his brother had inherited from their father really belongs to an absentee landlord whose very identity is in question? That he’d begin skimming from it would be very likely.
And so we see the continuing downward spiral of the likes of Canelmir and Narthord at the same time we see the redemption of Systerien and Ivormil, as both find increasing satisfaction and reason for living in serving those about them and learning to do so well. That Aragorn would agree for an apparently less onerous punishment to be given to Canelmir so as to avoid the risk lesser lords might begin banding against him is a political decision that would undoubtedly have rankled at him, but that would have been unavoidable.
We again see elements I’ve alluded to in other stories, particularly in the hospital visit with Ionil, the one burned during the assaults on the city by Mordor whose death grieved Frodo so in “The Acceptable Sacrifice.” Ionil’s ongoing problems with recurring infections is itself a foreshadowing of Frodo’s own struggles with declining health as a result of his experiences. Having seen how it was Ionil died, wouldn’t it be more likely that Frodo himself would eventually choose to accept the Queen’s gift and go to the Undying Lands with the rest of the Ringbearers? And again I beg the forbearance of those from whose stories I’ve borrowed elements, for I mean but the greatest respect to them. Thank you for adding to the world of Middle Earth.
And, of course, there is the spiritual aspect to the story. The Elves who remained in northwestern Middle Earth remained true to the vision of the Creator for them, and maintained the gifts of healing for man, beast, and land granted to them from the start. That the themes of “Let he who would be greatest among you be as the servant of all” and “Much is expected of those to whom much is given; and when much is not returned, he risks losing all he has had” and “No greater love has any than this, that he be willing to lay down his life for his friends” would have been part of how Aragorn would have been raised is very probable. Tolkien was raised a Roman Catholic; I am from a closely aligned Christian tradition. These are among the strongest spiritual themes to which we have been exposed all our lives. The reason Frodo and Sam were and are so well beloved, and Aragorn and Gandalf with them, is that all purposefully risked their lives for all others. That this risk would serve as an example and inspiration to all others is consistent with how the image of Jesus willing to lay down His life for the spiritual integrity of the world has inspired generations of Christians from all traditions. I strongly suspect Aragorn truly saw himself as the servant of all he ruled, and that he expected similar behavior and motivation from all who served similarly throughout the lands he administered.
Once again, I thank all who’ve read and responded to this story. I actually completed it before I began posting it, in contrast to most of my work since my first three tales. I hope it has entertained as well as having inspired thought. And may we all seek to emulate the selflessness and inner nobility of those we’ve come to love within Tolkien’s world while accepting their--and our own--very humanity and fallibility.
B. L. S. November 21, 2007
For those who have learned to give of themselves that the world be a better place.